Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Beginning Of The End For UK Troops In Basra - Sky News

Geoff Meade, Defence correspondent
Britain has formally handed over Basra to US troops, marking the start of the withdrawal from the UK's most contentious war for half a century.

UK Maj Gen Andy Salmon has now relinquished command to American Maj Gen Michael Oates, who heads up the new Multi National Division South.
The ceremonial lowering of the divisional flag signalled the end to British control of their Basra base, six years after the invasion.

Gen Salmon and his headquarters staff will start packing to leave Iraq in the next 48 hours.
Over the coming four months, almost all of Britain’s remaining contingent will follow.
Where UK forces took the lead in battling insurgents, the few left will concentrate on training and mentoring Iraqi units.

Streets that once saw some of the fiercest rebellion, with British soldiers and armoured vehicles under regular attack, are left in the control of the Iraqi government.
Security is provided by local troops and police.

Near normal life has returned, as once-regular blood letting has now reduced to sporadic outbursts. But the achievement has come at the cost of 179 British lives and untold thousands of Iraqi casualties.

The campaign has also seen UK forces at their best and worst.

It was here that Johnson Beharry became the only serving holder of the Victoria Cross.
But it was also the theatre where prisoner abuse lead to the first British war crime conviction and the still-unsolved killing of Baha Mousa, the hotel receptionist who died in military custody.
The Ministry of Defence claims that the last 18 months have been a period of particular progress, with Basra safer and more stable than before and poised to exploit its enormous wealth as an oil producing centre.

However, the Americans are not so convinced of its benign future to leave the safety of their main supply line from Kuwait entirely in the hands of the locals.

The US 10th Mountain Division will patrol regularly against any renewal of the violence that will be the main memory of those whose duty is coming to an end.

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